Airline Loses 10-Year-Old Child. Do You Let Your Kids Fly by Themselves?

It's a horror story for any parent: A child flying by herself was lost by the airline that was supposed to be helping her travel. Do you let your children fly alone?
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Meanwhile, Perry Klebahn, who is a United “Premire” member, was also calling the airline and got slightly better results: He was able to talk to a United representative in the US quickly, and was told the unaccompanied minor service hired to take Phoebe to her connecting flight “forgot to show up.” (United’s website does not mention that they outsource this service.) But when he asked the United representative if she could make sure Phoebe was OK, she told him that “she was going off her shift and could not help.” It wasn’t until Perry asked her if she was a mother herself, and she said yes, that she was willing to even locate the 10-year-old inside the airport.

The rules for allowing kids to fly unaccompanied varies from carrier to carrier. JetBlue, for example, only allows children age 5 to 13 to fly by themselves on nonstop flights; children age 14 and older are considered adults who do not require additional help. On United, children age 12 and older can fly by themselves without supervision. On Delta, children age 5 to 7 can fly unaccompanied on nonstop flights only, but children age 8 to 14 can fly on connecting flights without an adult as well (the program is optional for children age 15 to 17.) US Airways says that children age 5 to 14 traveling alone can travel on non-stop flights only. And American Airlines considers passengers age 12 to 17 to be “young adults” for whom extra help is available for an extra fee, but not required; children younger than 12 are considered unaccompanied minors unless they are traveling with another person who is at least 16 years old.

Read Are Parents Setting Kids Up for Failure by Pushing Too Hard for Success?

According to Sutton, United only responded to the family after their story was picked up by a TV station in San Francisco. On Aug. 12 — nearly a month and a half after the incident — a United representative called the Klebahns at home to address the problem. Yesterday, as outrage continued to build and people started trading United horror stories on social media, United issued a public statement:

“We appreciate and understand everyone’s concerns over this situation, please know we have reached out directly to the Klebahn family to apologize and are conducting an on-going investigation,” United said on their Facebook page. “The service they describe is not the service we aim to deliver. We are doing a thorough investigation into what happened and into our procedures to see how we may continually improve.”

United told the Huffington Post that they’ve refunded the Klebahns’ unaccompanied minor fee and redeposited the frequent flier miles used to pay for the ticket, but many customers are calling the statement “a non-apology” and vowing never to fly United again.

“I’m just flabbergasted by the degree to which none of your employees could be bothered to care,” commented Nicklas Johnson on United’s Facebook page.

Others are criticizing the Klebahns for not taking their child to camp themselves.

“I would never, ever send my child on a plane without a parent, grandparent or close relative,” wrote FSMbaby at the Huffington Post. “What makes people think this is ok? You’re trusting your kids to complete strangers.”

Tell us: Are your kids old enough to fly by themselves? Do you let them?

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